Friday, February 26, 2010

You Lookin' at Me!

Look at me. No, really, look at me. Look closely. What do you see? Who am I? And, more importantly, who are you? If John Berger is to be believed, I must be a woman, and you a man. Were we both the latter, to look at me would be an act of "violence" (64). Were we both the former, well, you couldn't be looking at me. You would be too busy looking around for someone else to look at you, to confirm your very existence, as I am doing in this here blog post. So, in order for you to really look at me, to gaze upon me, you must be a man, I a woman.

But we both know that's not true. Odds are, if you're reading this, the reverse is true. (I'd even make a bet on it, if only for the sad fact that who's gonna get this far in reading besides you, Professor Cacoilo?)So how is it, then, that you can look at me, and what do you see, and how do you see it? If "men act and women appear" (Berger, 47), then how did most of you blog? Did your post simply materialize out of the ether? I know I'm being a bit simplistic, but as I mentioned in class, I don't entirely find Berger of Mulvey applicable anymore. To wit: "The paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world" (Mulvey, 833). Excuse me?

And no, I'm not missing the point, at least I hope not. I know what Mulvey is saying, and she has her points, otherwise this essay wouldn't be so damn epochal—it was even the inspiration for a recent show of (god forbid!) women artists interpreting female bodies last year at Chaim Reed. It's true, men look at women, often possessively, not always in the best light. There is an unconscious patriarchy not only to film but many (most? all?) other pieces of popular culture. A perfect example is the recent smash hit Avatar, which not only sexualizes but also colonizes the Na'vi (thinks Native Americans, Africans), or even an independent tale like Run Lola, Run, where Lola, gazelle-like, is presented on the screen as a beauty, albeit independent (or at least struggly to be so) who commands our gaze.

This is why bell hooks (granted writing 20 years later) comes closest to the mark in my mind. She acknowledges that we all look in our own ways, restoring the agency Berger seems to have stripped women of, culturally if not socially. Again, many of these looks may be problematic. "Most of the women I talked with felt that they consciously resisted identification with films—that the tension made moviegoing less than pleasurable; at times it caused pain" (hooks 121) Still, we all look, we must all look, in some capacity, and the better for it to be empowering than debasing. Hence the oppositional gaze, which hooks rightly gives the ability to "change reality" (116).

For better and worse, this is where we are increasingly realizing in our post-modern, possibly post-feminist world. We have shifted from black and white to gray. We all look now, and especially with the rise of the Internet, there are more places to look than ever, more narrowcasting, more opposition, but also more LOLcats and cyberbullying. By no means should we give up the fight, but the often combatitve tone of Mulvey and her cohort seemed to do as much bad (hence the deplorable feminazi tag) as good. It reminds me of an apocryphal story about Malcolm X once told Martin Luther King, "You need me. You need me to scare the mainstream into accepting you." (I'm paraphrasing, of course.) For every Nancy Pelosi we have a Bart Stupak. For every Katie Couric, we have that creep who spied on Erin Andrews. These issues are complex, inherently so, which is why would should never stop talking about and fighting for them. But let's not forget to keep our perspective, as well.

(From the top: Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, via Wikimedia; Navi concept art via Filmonic.)

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